Old stars and new independents: A modest suggestion

I've got an idea for how to change independent film and kick-start the kind of serious attention that video-on-demand seems to require.

And it all stems from the fact that Tom Hanks has been on my mind of late, though I'm not sure why.

Maybe it was the reports that Hanks was - then wasn't - going to play Elwood P. Dowd in a Steven Spielberg remake of Harvey. (Personally, I think Woody Harrelson would be ideal casting. Or perhaps Bill Murray.) Or maybe it was the fact that I saw Hanks presenting an award on the Golden Globes.

In either case, it struck me: Tom Hanks doesn't really need to act to make a living anymore. So why not use his clout to give someone else a leg up?

He's won two Oscars and has been a star for 20 years. Now in his mid-50s, he's at an age where it's hard to find roles worthy of his talent in an industry that seems myopically focused on the scary talents of Taylor Lautner and Megan Fox. Plus he's got a solid producing career in gear, whether it's a series like Big Love or miniseries like Band of Brothers and The Pacific or films such as Where the Wild Things Are and Charlie Wilson's War.

Hanks is always a welcome screen presence: sly, knowing, funny, thoughtful, heartfelt. But does he really need the money Hollywood would offer him for yet another Dan Brown adaptation or some other big-budget extravaganza that's long on effects and short on brains? (Though I'll admit I'm interested in seeing him in Barry Levinson's rumored adaptation of Larry McMurtry's Boone's Lick.)

But seriously: I mean, I know those Dan Brown movies make a lot of money but how many $20-million paydays does anyone need after that first one (unless you're a fruitcake spendthrift like Nicolas Cage)? Particularly when the films you're making only serve to pad out the resume without really enhancing it? Or when the movies themselves gross less domestically than your salary?

I had the same thought when I saw Edge of Darkness, Mel Gibson's first starring role in several years; not a bad movie, but while it did solid business, it didn't kill at the box office like Dear John (not being judgmental there; Edge of Darkness was a far superior film). And while I didn't see Extraordinary Measures, I obviously was aware of it and the fact that it stars Harrison Ford. And that it bombed, big time.

Again, these are actors who have cashed their share of multimillion-dollar paychecks. But they're all, in a sense, past their prime or their peak - at least as defined by the salad days when they were young enough, new enough and box-office-hot enough to lure an audience on the strength of their names alone.

All of them obviously still have an urge or need to work as actors. So here's my suggestion:

Why don't these stars of the 1980s and 1990s announce that, henceforth, they are retiring from the blockbuster game? They'll only do small independent films that interest them and will willingly be paid scale and a small piece of the back end, rather than their seven or eight-figure quote. They will make themselves available to first-time and rising directors who have a vision but lack the funds to make their low-budget films.

While I'm getting all pie-in-the-sky here, why not take it a step farther?